What of Jesus? – An Easter reflection with reader participation.

Happy Easter!

On this Easter weekend, I think on the meaning of the season and I wonder about my question from my last post, How can a person today decide to want to emulate a man from 2000 years ago? Easter marks the time Christians remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, one of the two key events in the Christian year. The other event of course being the birth of Jesus. Anyone looking at this belief system from afar would obviously say that the main point of this Christian thing is Jesus. He is the reason for it all, but why?

Here’s my thing. When I think about the events that have occurred in my past in and in the past of my family, some of those we tend to attribute to God. If I think back, I have never really thought of Jesus doing these things. My mind just says God, not really Jesus. I know Jesus is in the mix but I’m not sure the PERSON I relate to is the Jesus person. Feels more like the Father person. The mystery of the trinity comes on the scene here as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one and distinct all at once. So maybe the fact that I don’t really relate personally too much to the Son part of the trinity, is not an offense really. After all, the are one.

But this does appear to mean that I might not have a relationship with Jesus, but instead just a belief in God. Maybe I was meant to live during Old Testament times. Back then believing and understanding a resurrected Jesus was not an issue. It hadn’t happened yet. There was one less miracle to doubt on. Easier, no?

Many accept the resurrection as being a part of the story. But I wonder how many today, on Easter Sunday, are identifying with a real visceral Jesus person that they know and can get their head around? So on this Easter, I ask you to join with me in an honest moment.

What does Easter and the resurrection of Jesus mean to you? Just a dramatic story you are told is what you are meant to believe? An intensely personal time for you? Do you feel you are relating to a resurrected Jesus, or do you just kinda relate to the idea of a God? I’m interested in what you all think.

What of Discipline?

In an earlier post I discussed what role cultural immersion has in our beliefs.  The basic idea was that if we immerse ourselves in any culture we will naturally start taking on the beliefs of those around us.  We become of that culture.  It has a role in forming us and our values.

And what of discipline?  I think when cultural immersion might only be getting you so far, discipline might get you the rest of the way.  Discipline is like a more intentional and overt way of teaching ourselves a behavior or a belief.  Where immersion kind of says, I will allow myself to be assimilated into the beliefs and values of the community, discipline is deciding to build yourself into something based on your own desire.  That desire however, could be coming from a value that really came from one of the cultures you are a part of.  So in a way discipline is the self-assimilation into a value or belief we ourselves have.

So how about this?  What if it is the case that if you invoke disciplinary rules for yourself, you are just leveraging this same mechanism as cultural immersion triggers but through a self-controlled lever?  That is to say, discipline is the set of actions we use to execute upon our personal decision to conform.  You decide on an end state, and you engage in the tasks that will get you there.  I’m sure some bristle when I use the word conform in this context, but I use the word conform in the sense that when it comes to discipline, you choose what you want to conform to.  In a paradoxical kind of way, you might even say that what you want to conform to is to be completely original.  So in this case you conform to non-conformity.  It’s kind of like groups of non-conformists – how can they exists as a group, right???  🙂

Is it hurting yet?

I guess I raise this because I recognize that the choice to be disciplined in anything, is like a choice to change yourself.  And so if you want to know what to believe and how to change yourself, what discipline would you exercise?  Perhaps you could decide to be disciplined in a study of those you wish to emulate?  After all, this is why Christians try and invest so much time in studying Jesus and his teachings.  To work at being Christ-like is to be Christian.  But what if you aren’t sure about Christianity?  In that case you should only choose to study Jesus if you decide of your own accord that he is someone worth emulating.  From a non-believer’s perspective you would have to choose that Jesus was worth emulating regardless of whether he was God or just a man.

Man, how do you decide that the life of a man that lived over 2000 years ago is worth emulating?  Just because there are many people who say he’s worth it?  That would be more of a cultural conformity.  Which I don’t mean to say is a bad thing.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing.  I just think this process for me these days is about making my own decision on all this.  So how do I decide this?  What information can even really be gathered in order to make this choice?

I go around and around and I come back in my mind to something I’ve always said about why people believe in God.  The decision to believe is a pretty individual thing.  Not that it isn’t informed by culture and discipline, but that the decision comes out of a personal encounter.  More to the point, it comes down to you deciding (consciously or not) that an experience you’ve had was something that was caused by an interaction with the spirit world.  It comes from a faith-based decision.

So maybe all I need is an encounter.  If and when this encounter occurs, maybe I can attribute it to God or maybe I won’t be convinced.  I can try and be open minded though.  Maybe that’s enough.  And maybe its not up to me to engineer anything at all, but rather it’s up to God to convince me.


 

Feeling like your coming in part way through the conversation?  There are earlier posts that share the “faith” tag with this post. Read them if you want to catch up.Click here to read the other posts with the “faith” tag.

My Conundrum with Culture and Immersion

I mentioned in a past post that I think in systems.  Our universe is filled with systems.  Everything seems to be connected.  Influence is happening all around us.  One  thing affects the next. Almost nothing is a truly isolated action. Connectedness just seems to be the thing here where we live.

One of the systems I notice is a human one surrounding the concept of culture and immersion.  I’ve noticed that if you surround yourself with people who have a particular way of thinking or acting, your humanness tends to make you adopt that way of thinking.  It seems really logical when I just say it, but I think we often underestimate just how unintentional this mechanism is.  People conform in this way to different degrees of course.  The least conformist person still conforms in this way, only they do it maybe less and maybe it takes longer.  I think it’s safe to say that this conforming trait is part of what we are as a species.  It’s not really an observation of the age we live in or the society we are in.  I think its a matter of human nature.  Its related to our survival instinct.  Conformity will drive you into communities and communities are safer.

Culture’s affect on us is this very system at play.  Why else would it be that a species have such different behaviours and values depending on where on the planet you live?  It’s not the where that matters, its the who.  More than the who it’s the cultural history that shapes our cultures and in turn our cultural values.  A people’s cultural mind learns through it’s past much like an individual does.  Out of our cuture’s history come ideas that attempt to explain what has happened to us.  We form structures, rules, and values, based on our past.  Some rules that limit and others that protect.  We develop taboos and norms.  We create outcasts.  We create heroes.

When an individual is associated with a people group, the process of conformation begins.  Maybe only slowly and subtly, but it happens.

Lets look at the big picture.  In reality we are all apart of many cultures.  Each is like a blanket we layer onto ourselves.  First we are apart of our ethnicity and our country.  Culture that comes with that.  I am Canadian.  My parents ethnicity affects me as well.  They are Kiwis (not the bird, but the people from New Zealand 🙂 )  My parent’s culture is another layer for me.  Then there is also local culture.  Every city and place has a certain culture, so layer that on there.  Next you probably go to school or work somewhere.  More and different cultures there.  Layer them on!  It’s like a cultural lasagna!  What else?  Do you go to church?  Church culture is a powerful one.  Layer it on.  You are in a relationship here and there, right?  Your major relationships each have a sort of culture to them and they affect us.  Even non-major relationships have a sort of micro-culture.  This is the kind of cultural layer that you can put on and take off depending on who you are with.

Now finally, out of all those layers, you get all the cultural rules, values, and norms that mix and mingle.  You may hold some of them closure than others and allow them to shape you more directly.  And here you are in the midst of it all trying to make the right choices… about life…  Not… easy…  You might even consider yourself to be lost in it all.  You are under all those layers somewhere just trying to be yourself.

How does this relate to my other faith posts, you say?  Well here’s the conundrum.  How do you make room to contemplate the validity of a belief structure that has a strong community focus (like Christianity), while not accidentally engaging that part of our human nature that suggests we be like those around us?  Isn’t there a risk of drawing false conclusions under cultural influence?  Would that matter?

Feeling like your coming in part way through the conversation?  There are earlier posts that share the “faith” tag with this post. Read them if you want to catch up.

Click here to read the other posts with the “faith” tag.

Here’s the thing.  I know this cultural immersion system exists and I know it has a power over me that is beyond my full control.  As far as faith goes, a big part of this for me as been about stepping outside of it all for a time and kind of just… watching.  I almost imagine myself as not a part of the Christian culture.  I consider what it might feel like to be an agnostic or even an atheist.  I do this because in order to think objectively, I think I need the cultural distance.  I think I need to disengage the part of my human nature that will direct me to conform due to my immersion in it all.  I need to try and not tempt my own human instincts.  Or maybe knowing is enough.  Maybe being willing to acknowledge that all this is going on under the covers will provide enough context to help me be objective with myself.

What I don’t really want is to realize in another 25 years that once again, maybe I didn’t choose this Christian life for myself.  Maybe I will have accidentally let others choose it for me.

It’s a funny thought because most of the time you will hear statements in a church like, “If you don’t feel close to God, get closer to God’s people.  Let them teach you.  Let Him transform your doubt into faith.”  Is this really a spiritual thing that happens?  Or is this a human thing that happens when we add a cultural layer?  I have a hard time accepting this kind of immersion as a viable way through what I’m experiencing because I don’t want to be culturally rendered back away form this spiritual ledge.  I want to step away from it by way of a genuine decision, or better yet, a genuine invitation or spiritual experience.

The fact is, Jesus is not the only trans-formative power.  Culture is a power we simply don’t escape from.  What if you mistake a church culture for Jesus and come to believe that Jesus transformed you, when it was actually nothing more than a cultural adoption that occurred?  Is that really all that bad from a Christian context?  When Jesus says to “know” him, does knowing the cultures that speak of him count?  Is that really knowing him?

Some side thoughts related to this… 

If you find that you are intolerant of something and if you can objectively see that your opinion of intolerance may be partly informed by one of the cultures you are a part of, consider what you can do to affect the way your culture shapes your thinking.  Know that your cultures shape your values and the way you think.  Maybe the way to deal with that intolerance is not to separate yourself from those whom you are intolerant of.  Maybe it’s not best to be surrounding yourself with only those who agree with you.  Instead try getting closer to those who best embody that which you do not tolerate.  Take a risk for the sake of another person.  Some immersion in that different culture may serve to help you to see another perspective.  Maybe you’ll gain insight and understanding.  After all, all you’re doing is engaging a natural part of you that will try and think the way those around you think.  In the case of most kinds of intolerance, it might not be such a bad thing to try thinking like someone else for a while.  This idea you don’t tolerate is held by people who live under different cultural layers than you.  Without your cultural layers at play, you are no different than anyone you disagree with.  For me, tolerance probably should be a trigger for people getting closer together so they can understand one another.  Intolerance shouldn’t be a trigger for pushing other people further away.

Basically I’m saying that if you don’t tolerate something, don’t build your defensive philosophical and theological walls before first addressing the human element.  Draw close to one another.  Learn to see things from other perspectives.  Your human nature will kick in and you will soften and be more accepting of others.  I’m pretty sure.

If you are in a culture that says that seeking understanding with another human being is something we should not do if that human being doesn’t already agree with us, I would seriously consider the worth of that culture you are a part of.

Exposed

In this post as well as my last I feel like I’m kind of outing myself as the kind of person no Christian is ever supposed to admit they actually are.  I’m feeling exposed. These feelings are a part of what this was always going to bring for me though.  So I’m trying to stay true to the process.  Be honest.  Write openly.

I sometimes go back and read what I’ve written and I try and image how I look to myself if I pretend I wasn’t the author.  I don’t really like some of my last post and that was only written yesterday.  I don’t dislike it because I wasn’t being honest, but because I think you could read it and think I was trying to say something without just saying it.  So I think I should point out here that I’m not trying to say anything in riddle form.  At least, not on purpose.  Of course there is the subconscious mind.  If I sound like I’m venting in some of these posts, its because I’m venting.  So my words may not be perfectly chosen and I might be forgetting something in my exploration of a topic that I actually agree with, but just didn’t represent all that well.  So these faith posts are better off taken as a whole.  They are most acurately understood by actually knowing me too.  That part is hard for those of you who are reading along, but haven’t had much time to get to know me in person.  It’s the nature of this media I suppose.  But I will say, even if it kind of goes without saying, that taking any one post as a complete roll up of who I am and what I think, is probably not a safe bet.

Feeling like your coming in part way through the conversation?  There are earlier posts that share the “faith” tag with this post. Read them if you want to catch up.Click here to read the other posts with the “faith” tag.

In fact, I have to decide to be intentionally incomplete in order to blog at all or else I’d be typing 5000 words in each post and that’s not really helpful for me.  I need to compartmentalize and then try and write in that compartment.  So many topics overlap though, so I skim over some huge thoughts for no other reason than to be able to actually do this thing.  I might not even be getting the compartments right, so that’s kind of a frustration for me too.  It’s like inside my self I have a vast file room sorted in various ways.  Over the past 25 years, many of these file cabinets relate and so to talk about any one thing is hard because in reality that cabinet is a part of a system of cabinets.  Some of these cabinets go deep.

I need to accept that there simply isn’t any perfect way to do this blog thing.  If you know me, this kind of acceptance is a challenge for me.

An example of what I don’t like is how in the last post I spoke about being like other Christians and then I talked about bible reading and missed stuff about prayer and also didn’t really take time to say what I actually think about what the Bible and prayer actually are.  I also didn’t really say how much I respect those who seem to be able to so easily love the scriptures.  Missing details, especially details of the kind that might end up hurting someone I respect, makes me feel panicky.  I want to sort of put a period on the sentence and not leave things hanging.  It’s hard to resist trying to explain every little thing, but an explanation in this example doesn’t change the fact that I’m not reading the bible as a discipline these days and that was the point.

So I decided that this is what I can do.  I can write the feeling of panic into a post.  It can sit here with the other posts being a sort of bookend.  Holding it all up so the other volumes don’t fall over before I’m finished.

I’m finished…for today.  🙂

What faith looks like to me now

The thing about the Christian life, at least the way I live it, is that it doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone.  I know some people have been very hurt by individuals who are Christian.  I’ve probably been the hurter myself at times for some people.  I’ll say that one thing I know is that hurting is a human trait, not a Christian trait.  Though all Christians are human, so I get by association it is a Christian trait.  The point is, it’s inescapable.

Side bar:  I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for reading and for being so supportive.  I have really appreciated the positive vibes and prayers.  It has helped knowing there are people out there who are reading and relating and wanting to help if they can.  I’m humbled and reminded of how so many of our problems are better if we just let people know we are even having them.  So thanks again, friends.I’ll mention a special thanks to my dad, Gene Packwood, who decided to come all the way from Medicine Hat a day early for a meeting so he could take me for a beer.  That was a great thing for us to have done together, and I consider if a highlight of my year so far.  Such a simple thing…  Thanks, Dad.Feeling like your coming in part way through the conversation?  There are earlier posts that share the “faith” tag with this post. Read them if you want to catch up.

Click here to read the other posts with the “faith” tag.

Also there are many more people that have been hurt by what the church culture puts out there.  Sometimes I find that its the church culture that condemns a person.  I’ve seen the case where someone decides they won’t be accepted by a church but can’t identify an event where they were told that.  They kind of just assume that if the church new about this ugly part of them, they would be cast out.  And sometimes this goes as far as being something they so much believe that they cast themselves out.  It’s ironic becuase then you get this group of people who are church outcasts, but who were self-cast.  They are church self-casts.  In their mind though, they attribute the offense to the church often saying things like, “That church is sooo judgmental, they don’t accept people for where they are.” or “I believe in God, but I don’t believe in organized religion.”  For the second statement its like saying, I like the idea of a deity and the feeling of wonder it brings, but I kind of don’t like people.  So I don’t think I’m stretching to say that paradoxically, some of those who decide not to attend church believe more in God than they do in people.  Interesting thought.

1-Prague Castle SpireFor me I’m not really thinking that way.  I kind of like people.  I don’t really like church culture.  It’s great when you see the part of the culture that is supportive.  It’s not great for me when I see the part that speaks in Christianese riddles and overly spiritual language.  For me, all I know all I can really do is get out there and be the kind of Christian that doesn’t hurt others. Better yet I can try and be of help to those who need.  Most of the time it’s not so hard.  Personally i don’t feel when I’m operating under basic Christian principals that I am on any higher moral ground that that average non-Christian guy out there just doing good. This only makes sense to me.

Reflecting back on my early years as a believer I can see that really all my attempts to try and be like other Christians pretty well fizzled out.  I’m not a consistent reader, so bible studies or any other reading-based things are like eating sand for me.  Well…they almost are… I read in fits and stops.  It’s just how I am.  At my most disciplined, I suffered through regular bible reading as a part of that discipline.  Today though, I just don’t have the energy for lots of reading.  I read one book at a time and that’s only when I’m in a fit and not in a stop.  Right now, I’m in a stop.

Friends and family that confess their love for the scriptures have always been kind of a puzzle to me. Its odd to me just how much people seem to love this book. I don’t deny that its helpful when looking for context on the Christian life, but do I love it?  No, not really.  Besides, I don’t know about you, but I have found that in a Christian community there is NEVER a shortage of people willing to try and teach you something from the Bible.  People love to know it and show it…or try and ram it down your throat.  😉

Part of the reality for me is simply that I’ve been involved with this Christian/chruch thing for a long time and the subject is just kinda…ho hum. Not quite boring, because people are not boring for the most part and churches are filled with people, but it’s something close to boredom that I feel. Indifference maybe. Sometimes almost irrelevance.  I mean it’s like a great movie.  The first time you see The Titanic you feel all the feelings and your heart strings are pulled as you face the human element of the story and the element of the story where there is an event that happens that’s kind of bigger than everyone on the boat.  An iceberg.  You watch it over and over again maybe, and this is a great way to become a master of the story, but the heart strings just don’t resonate like they used to.  It loses its luster.  It become ordinary and almost uninteresting.  And such is the religious life.

The way others seem to view Jesus is interesting too. So many people constantly point to Jesus, and I get it, he’s the central person in the Christian story. He’s pretty important. But if I’m honest, I have always had an easier time relating to the screw balls in the bible that AREN’T supernatural beings! I’m more like a screw ball than a messiah. I don’t get how Jesus works.  I don’t get how to be man and God at once.  I do get how to kinda just be … regular. I get how to screw everything up. I get how to put my foot in my mouth. I also sort of get how to live well while being broken.

A big shift for me throughout this phase of life is that I can feel and think all I have been saying and I no longer feel guilty for thinking it. I just refuse to fake it all. It’s either got to be genuine, or nothing at all. Or maybe there is a middle ground where I just kind of feel off about everything all the time. I’ve considered that a lot lately but I’m just not ready to accept that. Maybe I’ll have to eventually though.

You know what? Sometimes I get tired of feeling stupid for believing something as ridiculous as Christianity.  People of science and people of religion have for a long time been at odds.  I am a logical thinker.  I think in systems in which cause and effect are a key part.  Sometimes I think the church does a crappy job of being in our world at this time of human history.  Its embarrassing to watch church leaders try and preach against things like evolution or on the topic of other religions as though these things are simple and straight forward.  This world has very little black and white in it.  It’s so gray.  I could write more on this, but I’ll save it for another time.  The point of bringing it up here is to say that this is a part of some church cultures that makes me mental.  I refuse to check my brain and the understanding we have of this universe at the door when I go to church.

One other big thing for me these days is that, believe it or not, I’m considered a member of our church’s leadership team.  All the other leaders know about what I’m going through.  Some of the other church members do too.  It’s not a secret, but if I’m honest, it feels a little odd to be a leader who couldn’t lead with much confidence at all.  I’ve offered to step down from leadership, but so far, I’ve been encouraged to stay connected and kind of step into a place where I can work it out.  I see this as a really generous thing for the other leaders to do.  For the most part, I’m dead weight on the team, but these guys have lots of grace for me.  They don’t seem to have any fear of what people might say about having a person of shaken faith in leadership.  I think there is some bravery there.  Realness too.  No one really has it ALL together, do they?  Leaders in other churches would have to cover it all up until it falls apart.  I have the slack I need to sort it out.  I’ll be clear though.  I don’t do much of the outward leadership stuff.  I don’t teach.  I don’t do music.  I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, I’m just saying that’s how it is.

And what about music? Now that’s a big one for me. Sometimes I think that if I really understood my issues with music, the rest would fall in line and make sense. I’ve written before that music can be a sort of escape for me. Here’s the puzzle. Lately, music has been a kind of barren place. It’s hard to explain. I don’t understand it. I will unpack the idea more in the future. Maybe in the unpacking I will find a clear description for you all (and myself) to better understand.

This post could really go on and on…even more.  So I’ll break it off here.  I want to say more about things like prayer.  For now?  Don’t forget to pray for me.  🙂

How Chan changed everything

I probably shouldn’t refer to the event as a crisis. As I’ve said before it’s more of a face plant event than a crisis. Though if it ever felt like a crisis, it was during February of 2013. What triggered it? Francis Chan at the Breakforth conference!  Get him!!!  Well, not really.  Don’t go get him guys.  He really has nothing to do with it.  It was just during his talk that a couple of my trajectories came crashing together.  He brought on the first of many real decision points.  We all have a being-honest-with-myself thought path that kind of goes along through your lives.  Sometimes this trajectory crosses other trajectories and forces an honest moment within you.  A moment where you realize that you in fact have no freaking idea of what truth really means.  Especially when you step out of the sort of mob mentality of a community that all believes a certain thing.

Feeling like your coming in part way through the conversation?  There are earlier posts that share the “faith” tag with this post. Read them if you want to catch up.

Click here to read the other posts with the “faith” tag.

A church community creates within itself a certain culture.  Each church is different.  As a part of that culture you can’t help but have your human nature sort of take over and you start adjusting what you do and say to fit what we detect to be that culture’s norm.  Even the most individualistic non-conformer does this (to there absolute horror I might add), and though their adaptation due to that culture might be smaller, it’s still there.  And I should say, this is not a bad thing in and of itself.  It’s how we work.  It’s how we turn our internal moral compass urges into actions.  It’s often through a culture of a people group that our outward self shapes itself.  It just happens.  For this reason it`s probably a really good idea to surround yourself with good people, just like you`re mom always told you.

trajectories-001

The what-you-personally-think trajectory eventually crosses your what-this-culture-thinks trajectory and you are left with a choice.  Do we assert what we think, or do we submit to the cultural norm.  Often it’s easy to conform.  We don’t even notice ourselves doing it.  Most of the time we hide away what we really think and go with the crowd.  There is safety in numbers.  That’s a hard wiring we have.

So getting back to my story, my what-everyone-tells-me-I’m-supposed-to-believe-about-God trajectory crossed my if-i’m-honest-I’m-really-not-all-that-sure-at-all trajectory.  On top of that I have my getting-old trajectory that kind of underpinned it all and made me decide that maybe it’s time I decide this for myself.  Maybe I should take a closer look at myself.  The moment of trajectory crossing what when Francis Chan posed a seemingly innocuous question.  He said, “Why don’t we tell people about Jesus?”.  In my head the answer was immediate, “We don’t want to.”  He echoed my thought, “We don’t want to.”

trajectories

I would just like to reiterate that this is really not all Francis Chan’s fault.

Then began a huge list of questions about what I believe and why.  One of the biggest was, do I believe I need Jesus?  If I’m honest, this is a truly perplexing question as I simply can’t settle on the answer these days.

The following is some of the contents of an email I wrote to my parents in early 2013.  I think it helps explain what all of this is like for me.  At the time I needed to voice of some what I thought with people I knew would be absolutely safe.  (Now safety seems less important for some reason…)   I was by myslef at a cabin near Invermere to work some things out and I wanted my parents to know what was up with me.  This email was my attempt to explain it all to them.  This is most of what I wrote – at time tearfully.

1-Picture_1912Since leaving Holy Trinity, I have been having a tough time faith-wise.  Church has seemed very contrived and I have been very uncertain of which parts of what I believe are based on fact/truth and what parts have been things I’ve accepted because people have told me that it’s right.  I’ve learned that the part of me that adheres to moral rightness is not necessarily connected to real truth.

I believe it’s good to be good.  I believe it’s good to follow rules. I believe that some rules and morals need to be accepted without necessarily understanding them fully yourself. That is to say, sometimes you need to trust those who are experts in our lives.  We need to start some place, so we start with those we are told we can trust like parents, teachers, mentors, and friends etc.  At some point though, their wisdom and council needs to either become your own, or fall away.

So over the past few years I have dared to take a look at my faith.  I see it like a brick house that I have built and put my beliefs on top of.  This process for me started with me realizing that this house is simply not all fact.  In the past I haven’t questioned a lot of the building blocks of my house because my morals told me it would be wrong or bad in some way to do that.  Also, many of the bricks have relationships attached.  Sometimes I put a brick in my house because someone I love and trust vouched for it.  Other bricks are there because I just really want them to be right, even though if I’m honest, I’m not sure they are.

So over the past few years I’ve been looking at these bricks and in a sense attempting to knock them off of the pile.  Many bricks have knocked off with ease.  Many have little or no mortar.  It’s like the truth is the mortar.  Truth will hold a true brick in place.  The feeling for me is as though you are standing in the house; maybe on the upper floor and the house is falling down around you. This house that I thought was strong is actually made up of lots of assumptions and inaccuracies.

One of the first bricks was the Holy Trinity brick.  I believed I should be a loyal church member, like other long time church families that go there.  In reality this brick was barely mortared in.  It fell away quickly. Now it’s obvious that where to go to church is not all that important on the grand scheme.  This is not to say that the weak mortaring is a reflection of the people of Holy Trinity.  Easily the biggest thing we miss since leaving HT is all the great people.  That brick hasn’t broken away, but it’s on a totally different house I think.  Also the HT brick was related to my music career and so that has been unseated as well. So the house begins to crumble.

Next the Anglican brick; an important brick to me. I like the look of this brick. I have etched both your names in it.  Because of that, I hold it dear.  I also like the tradition it represents. I like the artistic value of symbology and liturgy.

So in order to go to The Sheep, I needed to kind of put this brick aside.

It didn’t shatter or crumble though.  I needed to accept it is a part of the house, but to be Anglican is probably not as important as to be Christian.  So it’s not a foundational brick I guess?

So the house continues to crumble. There are church bricks that are all about appearance and have nothing at all to do with the structural integrity.  There are music bricks that are designed to distract and are placed strategically (by me) to hide things I don’t like about the church, even though I suspect they are key.  Like the evangelism brick – the “go ye therefore…” brick.  If I’m busy with music, it becomes everyone else’s job to “go ye therefore” and I mind the base and make a nice atmosphere.  I’m not an evangelist probably because I don’t want to be.

2-Picture_1910Some bricks have shattered to bits.  Some I have realized their value and I can see them falling with me amidst the other rubble, I suspect they will land on the foundation with me when I finally reach it.  My theory is that there is a foundation to the house that can’t be crumbled.  I am hopeful for this at least, because if it can ALL be crumbled, then I will land on earth and I will be forced to accept that me and those I trust constructed this house…just because.  We carefully made each brick.  If I land on earth, then I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Here the thing.  Most of us believe we are meeting our own needs.  If we are honest, I think most people would accept that. Sometimes we try and attribute it all to God watching out for us, but if you look at non-believers, they are all meeting their own needs too.  To be fair, society is set up so a community of people can all meet their needs.  So it’s really easy for a person in this society to lose dependence on Jesus and simply meet their own needs.

So my Jesus brick is molded on the wrong Jesus.  It came off the house and it falls as rubble.  At least I think it is.  I believe in Jesus, I just don’t think I really know Him.  I see how you, Dad, seem to obviously love Him in your work and the way you teach about him.  I don’t think I ever really GOT it. I accepted that he is key to Christianity.  He’s mysterious.  Do I think I have a relationship with Jesus?  I’m not sure anymore.  Do I have a relationship with God?  For some reason that is easier to say “yes” to.  Somehow I’m missing the point of Jesus.

So that’s the current part of the house I’m on.  I realized that when such an important brick could be moved, I needed to sort some things out.  I talked to Kristy and she graciously offered to send me away by myself to get some time.  That’s what this weekend is about.  She is worried about how this journey ends.  It’s not surprising.  I still believe in God.  I can remember experiences that I still attribute to Him.  As I say, I’m still expectant and hopeful that there is a foundation down there that is true and reliable.  I expect He is down there somewhere, ready to catch me and the important bricks.

Where I’m at is that I refuse to be the builder anymore – at least not for a bit.  It’s renovation time and I’m taking it down to the bare bones if I have to; down to the stone foundation if I have too.

I’m finding the farther down I go, the older the bricks are and the more they have shaped my choices in the past. I feel a lot of regret about choices I made and time I spent all justified by a certain bricks that used to seem so important at one point but are now dust in the storm.  It’s a feeling of crisis.  It’s also closely connected to my identity.  Who am I REALLY?  What REALLY matters?  I could be half way through my life (or more) and it sort of feels like I’ve been working this whole time without a blueprint; without a plan.  I feel a real sense of loss.

So I wanted you guys to know all this.  If it isn’t clear, some prayer would be good.  🙂  I’d like to feel sometime soon that there is something real about all this stuff.  I’d like to feel there is a point to spirituality.

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

Getting to this point – my history…

So in order to understand where I am, I think I need to explain where I’ve been.  This post is basically intended to tell my life’s story as it relates to faith.  Some of the elements of this story will come out again in future posts as I think some events shaped me more than other – as it is with everyone.  It might be a bit dry if you already know me.  Good luck!

Feeling like your coming in part way through the conversation?  There is an earlier post that shares the “faith” tag with this post.Click here to read the other posts with the “faith” tag.

For the most part, I was raised in a Christian household though we weren’t always a family that attended church.  Both of my parents have Christian stories from before they had me in their life.  It was between the years of about 1980 and 1989 that my parents sort of re-ignited their faith and became very active in our church, Holy Trinity.  They were so involved actually that my dad went nuts and took us off to seminary in Saskatoon in order to become a priest.  🙂  My own faith journey began a little before seminary came along.  For me my decision to believe in God was strongly connected to seeing my parents believe in God.  I “officially” (I guess) made my decision to be Christian one year at bible camp as so many others do too.  There really wasn’t much to it.  I just decided and said a prayer with a councilor.  I can’t even remember which year it was, not that it’s really relevant here.  I was maybe 11 years old.

Our time in Saskatoon while my dad was in seminary was some of the best years of my whole life.  I was in a great youth group with people I just loved (and still do actually).  Regardless of what I’m believing on any given day, I know there was something real and special about that time of my life.  During my time in Saskatoon, my best friends were all believers.  This basically made it cool to be “in” to God.  My faith grew as did my belief.  But Saskatoon was not to be a long term thing for us.  This time came eventually when my Dad had graduated and it was time to go.  Leaving Saskatoon was one of the most socially traumatic events of my life.  It was really hard leaving friends I felt so close too.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say I was devastated.

I was 15 when we moved to Airdrie, Alberta so my dad could start working in his first church, St. Francis of Assisi Anglican Church.  In Airdrie I finished my last three years of high school.  During this time I slowly began getting involved in different church youth-related things.  I was actually more connected to youth gatherings in Calgary as there wasn’t much of a youth group at our church at the time.  By 16 I was spending a lot of time being active in youth groups and church organizations.

I also joined my first band at this time.  I was the lead guitarist for a band called Young Pride.  It was not a Christian band at all, so it doesn’t mark anything important along the faith road I don’t think, but it does mark the beginning of bands for me.  Music is a lead character in this whole faith story for me.  I have a post or two planned for the future that will reveal more.

Eventually I started playing a lot in Christian bands through the youth groups I was in.  Taberah, Soul Purpose, and 4 Quart Kettle were the main ones.  I was also in many other youth bands though, one of which was named “Leftover Tomatoes with a Bit of Mayo”.  It was a training ground for me in many ways.  I learned to play in a band and to do sound.  I even got pretty good at some of it.

The Christian music all accumulated into me taking a job as the music director for Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary.  This was neat for me because Holy Trinity was the church we left when we headed to Saskatoon, so it was a familiar place for me.  It was a natural place to settle down.  I ran a studio out of the church that made almost no money at all.  I was impossibly bad a balancing the running of a ministry and the running of a business.  I think the studio ran at a loss the entire time I was working there.

During my time at Holy Trinity I also released two CD’s; a solo album, Forward Motion; and a Holy Trinity Band Christmas CD called Christmas Presence (we were very clever at naming CDs).  Christmas Presence won a Covenant Award for Seasonal Album of the Year through the Gospel Music Association of Canada.  It was a really fun experience to win a national award like that.  I even got to receive the award at an awards ceremony and give an acceptance speech.  I’m happy about having had that experience.

I did this job at Holy Trinity for maybe 4 years before it was time to leave.  I was very burnt out.   When you serve a group of people in a church you really need to find a place within yourself to love those people.  I was starting to become frustrated and bitter.  It was time to leave from that perspective.  My first son was on the way as well and we decided it was time for a lifestyle shift.  I needed to be the main bread winner and so that kind of pushed us over the line.

After stopping my job at Holy Trinity, I still helped with music a little, but it didn’t really feel very good.  It was a hard transition for me.  It was hard because I was frustrated that I felt so frustrated.  (It’s kind of complicated.  I will write another blog about this another time…  )

Another important note:  In 2003, during my time attending and working at Holy Trinity I was married to my wife, Kristy.  Kristy and I have always attended church together though we have never been all that active as a couple in our faith.  All of our attempts to start a prayer habit together or whatever eventually fizzled out.  As such I can’t say I feel much connection between my faith and my marriage.  I’m probably doing both of these things wrong though, so there’s that.  🙂

Soon after quitting work at Holy Trinity we decided to move our family to Okotoks.  We liked the idea of getting out of the city.  It’s a decision I don’t regret, though we miss being close to some great people we now don’t see nearly enough.

In Okotoks we knew some friends who attended a little church called The Sheep.  In fact I had played as a guest worship leader for them a few times leading up to our moving.  When we first moved, we looked around a little for different churches but in the end The Sheep seemed like a fit.  I wanted to go somewhere where I wouldn’t immediately be pressured into doing music.  I had a reputation for doing church music that I think was pretty positive in that I was, lets say, desirable.  At least, that’s how it seemed.  The Sheep was good because though they knew I played, they didn’t press me and I could kind of just…be…for a while, which is what I needed.  We have been attending The Sheep ever since moving to Okotoks.

I spent the first year or two at The Sheep just…being…  Once in a while I would play for the service and help out here and there.  I was cautious.  It was during these post Holy Trinity years that I started wondering if playing in church was ever going to feel good again.  Eventually I decided that I’d try trying.  I’ve always believed that sometimes you need to kind of just practice a thing before it becomes real for you.  So I signed up and played on Sundays again.  Mainly I felt like a fraud.  Mainly I recognized that it just felt good to play again.  It wasn’t about service to God.  It was a little about serving the other musicians by being another helper in the effort.

After a while I noticed my tank was empty again and I needed to stop.  Stopping is hard though because you don’t want to let people down.  So it took my crisis event in January of 2013 to tip the scales and have me finally step away again.  My next post will cover this event as describing it is kind of a journey all on it’s own.

 

On my face with faith

Faith.  Ug.

That about sums up the past couple of years of my life.  I guess you could say I’m on my face, but not in the spiritually prayerful way.  It’s more like I’m just on my face…physically.  It’s more of a grinding into the ground kind of thing really. My mouth full of dust.  My skin covered in scrapes.  I’m on my face, as opposed to my feet, or my knees for that matter.  Now it’s time to see what I can do about it.  It’s time to pick some pebbles out of the wound and see what the damage is like under the dirt.

Lately I have felt kind of stuck, so I thought maybe writing about it would be good.  So here I am.  I will explain more in this post as well as in a series of others, but I don’t think I’ll post them all to Facebook.  The only reason I post this one to Facebook is because I value some of the feedback some of you may choose to give me, but going forward, I don’t really want to pester people.  If others post what I write, that’s ok.  After all, the Internet is a public forum, so I don’t pretend to be doing this in a private journal.  So I’m welcoming spectators, which in and of itself is not a comfortable thing for me.  I’m more of a private person, but I think the “audience” will drive me to try and be clear about what I mean.  That’s kind of the point of writing any of this.  I’m trying to be thorough enough to force myself to be articulate and not wishy washy.  I can’t guarantee anything though.  🙂  So if you consider yourself as someone who cares about me or if this post resonates with you in some way, don’t rely on Facebook to keep you up to date.  Subscribe to the blog or check back often or something.

Some might be less inclined to refer to this event/phase in my life as an “on the face” thing and more inclined to refer to this kind of thing as a “crisis of faith”; I know I myself have referred to it in that way in the past.  But “crisis” suggests urgency and I don’t really feel urgency.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t like the feeling of being unsure and unwilling to dive in, but I also don’t see any compelling reason to rush anything.  Though I know some of those closer to me are showing signs that they are being driven a little crazy by me being in this phase.  Maybe I’m just more patient than they are, or maybe I’m letting them down.  Probably it’s a little of both.

The point is, I’m really not sure what I believe about life anymore.  By “life” I mean that I’m not sure about humanity and faith in God.  Life and death too.  I know what I want to believe, but it dogs me that it feels so…put on.  I’ve been a Christian since probably around 11 years old or so – giver or take a year.  As I write this, Christianity has been a part of my life in some way for over 25 years.  Right now it’s as though I’m in a place where I’m kind of saying, “Ok. What did I decide?  How does that decision make sense?”  So I’ve kind of gone back to the start in a way.  It’s not really a bad thing, but it is a little uncomfortable.

This phase started some time ago for me.  I can’t really say one thing that kicked it all off, but rather life just kind of happened.  Partly, I just got older.  Partly, I wore out a little. Partly, I learned some stuff.  It was probably kicked off by a bunch of things that all add up to me eventually being unsure.  I often think about an analogy of a gas tank.  The gas tank is inside me (somewhere) and it has something (not sure what) in it, or at least it HAD something in it.  Over time, I used that something up.  Now, I kind of feel dead in the water.  Tank’s empty.  Much of the last few years have been about me trying to understand what was in that tank, what used it up, and what refills it.  I use the word “trying” here liberally because if I’m honest, I haven’t been all that active at times in trying to sort it all out.  This post represents a big chunk of my “trying” as of late.  It’s a start though, right?  Where better to start a thing than like 5 years in?  🙂

So what do things look like for me right now?  Ok, I’ll try and expose how this is playing out at the moment.

I still go to church, but I don’t participate in the same way I used to.  I listen, I reflect, but I don’t act without conviction. I’m usually not feeling convicted.  Ok.  For the most part, I don’t act at all.  I don’t play music at church anymore.  I don’t pursue with any fervor spiritual disciplines like study and piety.   I focus on what I am sure of, which isn’t much, and this results in very little churchy kind of activity.  I do like the people I have in my life though.  Even the church ones! 🙂  So I focus there; with the people I know.  I try and have friends and be friendly.  I try and support those I care about.  Mostly, I try and be a dad and make sure my family has what it needs.  Genuineness resonates a lot with me.  I want to have integrity when I do things.   I’m not really willing to fake anything – even for a short time to bridge a gap to a place where I really mean it.  It’s not that this approach isn’t valid as it’s something I’ve tried in the past, but it just doesn’t seem appropriate right now.  I do make some small effort to be in the way of God.  That is to say that even if I’m not sure about God, if He’s out there (in here…whatever), He will try and reach me at some point.  So I go to some men’s meetings.  I also hang out with people who don’t seem to display the same faith issues as I; maybe something will rub off.  I try not to be stubborn about it.  I wouldn’t say I’m dug in all that much (though I’m sure I’ll find that I am in some aspects.  🙂 )

Maybe I should have said this before but if it isn’t obvious, I definitely do NOT have the answers in all this.  At least not yet.  This is a journey and I’m lost somewhere between stations…with an empty tank…on my face.  What’s more is that I actually do have many of the “answers”.  Yes, confusing, I know.  What I mean is, I have been a Christian for many years and in my head I can hear the things I used to say to people and I can hear the things I’d expect to hear from others.  All of these answers are in my head, but so far, non of them have really fit.  They all seem likely to be temporary answers that will eventually fail me as others have in the past have.

So, that’s about it.  Future posts will reveal more.  If you want to come along for the ride, please do but no pressure.  Really.  Follow if you want, but don’t do it just because I might ask or whatever.  I’m not sure I’d take the time to read other peoples faith journey stories, so I totally get it if this kind of thing isn’t for you.  The ride might get kind of bumpy too.  It is, after all, about me being on my face.  I’m going to try not to filter too much.  Basically, I’ll write as though no one is caring what I think.  I’ll try not to save face…beside it’s already mashed into the ground I’m pretty sure. 🙂